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‘The Twilight Zone’ Gains in the Polls with “The Wunderkind”

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The fifth episode of The Twilight Zone is finally one for the people — well, those of us who prize character development over plot twists, anyway. Though “The Wunderkind” does occasionally lose itself in its point-blank satire involving a child running for President of the United States (sheesh), there is a enough of a focus on the campaign’s ambitious young manager for the show to feel refreshingly human for a change. Though it’s doubtful anyone will be chanting for “four more seasons” just yet, the path to renewal just got a little clearer.

The story is told in flashbacks, as a mercenary electioneer named Rafe Hanks (a solid John Cho) looks back on his past from a secluded operating table to which he is strapped. It seems that four years ago, after Rafe misread polling data suggesting his unpopular boss would be reelected, the once-touted “Wunderkind” went into political exile in order to drink away his failure. However, after watching a viral YouTube video of a young boy named Oliver who has whimsically declared his own candidacy for the highest office in the land, Rafe gets the crazy idea that this adorably plucky whippersnapper — whose innocence just happens to connect with the voting public — might be his ticket back into the big game.

It’s the kind of ridiculous plot that seems more suitable to a punchline than an hour-long episode of television, but “The Wunderkind” manages to sidestep its uneven tone and hackneyed allusions to explore not only a general sort of populism, but also the calculating outlook of a certain type of person for whom elections are merely about competition — about winning. Rafe’s cynical approach sees him treating these events as contests as challenges with which he can boost his own notoriety, and nothing more. Positions on issues and policy mean nothing to him; he knows that the best way to get votes is to be liked. And what could be more likable than a civic-minded, optimistic youngster uncorrupted by the stain of years in politics?

There are times when it’s funny and times when it’s too self-serious, but “The Wunderkind” is consistently intriguing.

Well, probably someone whose platform doesn’t rest on free video games, for one. But because this is The Twilight Zone, even a boy whose realistic potential would be capped at memedom can fake-cry and music-video his way to the top of the ballot. Once Oliver starts getting some traction with the doofus populace, Rafe begins to notice some imperfections in his pre-pubescent candidate. In a shock to no one, it turns out that kids can be bratty, impetuous, selfish little pricks! Soon, Rafe begins to experience the process of an actual character arc while realizing the ramifications of his success. His manipulative cynicism may have enabled a monster, and so Rafe ultimately tries to make things right. Of course, this is still The Twilight Zone

Now look, “The Wunderkind” is about as flawless as its namesake — which is to say, it’s got plenty of issues. The script can’t seem to settle on a tone that works best for this laughable premise, dancing back and forth between comedic and ominous when it could (and should) have just leaned into the former, and there are also more of those annoying, time-stamped cultural references that this iteration of the series seems so fond of (congratulations — you know that Fortnite is a thing). Elements of the satire are so heavy-handed as to be pandering, and allusions to 2016 are clumsy at best. It also would have been nice to see a little more of the aftermath of the election (the only time the tonal shift actually works), and the ‘twist’ ending is an absolute dud that doesn’t have nearly as much impact as the scene before it.

That said, “The Wunderkind” achieves the steadiest connection of this new-fangled season by keeping an almost old-fashioned focus on the state of its main character. Rafe is properly established, then given a satisfying arc that grounds the parallel-dimension feel of this story in a humanity that manages to keep it from flying off into eye-roll territory. John Cho also deserves much of the credit, finding a believable progression for a character that requires him to be cocky, defeated, suspicious, hopeful, vulnerable, and terrified. His centered performance allows the script to go off in directions in which the audience may otherwise not have followed.

That includes some of the more general political commentaries. While the specific pokes are tiresome, writer Andrew guest finds some layers that he executes rather adeptly. Though the idea of a child winning the White House will certainly call to mind something contemporary to many, “The Wunderkind” examines populism in general, crafting its politicians in ways that will have both sides of the political spectrum seeing bits of each other. Oliver is a temperamental brat who has little-to-no understanding of governmental workings, who just wants to be liked and obeyed, panders to the public via social media, and who promises lots of free stuff that isn’t practical or even feasible. No matter where you stand, that probably sounds like someone you don’t like. Clever.

There are times when it’s funny and times when it’s too self-serious, but “The Wunderkind” is consistently intriguing. It may not be perfect, but it’s the first episode this season to actually feel like The Twilight Zone.

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

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Wrestling

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches: Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker Casket Match

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Greatest Royal Rumble Matches Casket Match

Royal Rumble 1998

WWF World Heavyweight Championship

The 1998 Royal Rumble was the eleventh entry in the annual pay-per-view event. It took place on January 18, 1998, at the San Jose Arena and is remembered best for two things: Stone Cold Steve Austin winning his second Royal Rumble by eliminating The Rock– and the thrilling Casket Match between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship.

Unfortunately, it is also remembered as the match that temporarily ended the career of Shawn Michaels.

It was ‘The Last Outlaw’ Undertaker versus Mr. WrestleMania a.k.a. The Main Event a.k.a. The Heartbreak Kid a.k.a. The Showstopper. After costing him the Championship in a match against Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart at Summerslam 1997, The Undertaker was out for revenge.

Shawn Michaels was the champion heading into the match, and he was also the favourite thanks to ample support from his fellow Degeneration X members Triple H and Chyna standing ringside.

Undertaker and Michaels had previously met in an outstanding match at Ground Zero: In Your House before going on to star in the first Hell in a Cell where Undertaker beat the hell out of Shawn, only to lose in the end no thanks to Kane interfering. This time around, however, Kane and Undertaker were now on good terms— or so we thought.

Needless to say, expectations were high for this one!

Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker Casket Match

Despite his age, Shawn Michaels was in the prime of his career, and every one of his matches with The Undertaker during this era became legendary. Unlike many other rivalries in WWE history, every time these two men went toe-to-toe in the center of the squared circle; fans knew they were in for something special.

The match itself isn’t necessarily their best work but it’s arguably the best Casket Match ever and it culminated with a truly unforgettable ending that had many fans glued to their seats.

The Undertaker controlled most of the match despite the constant interference from Triple H and Chyna, which in retrospect makes sense since early in the match, Shawn Michaels herniated two disks in his back and completely crushed another after receiving a back body drop on the side of the casket. Being the champ that he was, Michaels continued to wrestle, and Undertaker eventually began to lose his dominance as things moved outside of the ring with Michaels delivering a piledriver on top of the steel steps. Following a high-flying elbow drop and Sweet Chin Music, Shawn Michaels seemed to have the match finally in his control but as all good heels do, he blew the opportunity to seal the deal and instead chose to taunt his opponent, giving Taker enough time to recuperate.

Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker Casket Match

The rest of the match saw the two men go back and forth, rolling in and out of the casket and delivering their respected finishers. Eventually, the two men made it back to the ring where Undertaker gave Shawn Michaels a chokeslam before dragging him to the edge of the ring and hitting a jumping tombstone piledriver into the casket. The match looked to be over but before Undertaker could close it, the New Age Outlaws and Los Boricuas ran in and collectively pummeled Undertaker until the lights went out in the arena. Kane’s music played and the Big Red Machine made his way to the ring to save the day.

Only he didn’t…

Kane instead turned on Undertaker, and choke slammed his own flesh and blood into the casket thus allowing Triple H and Chyna to shut the lid, and end the match.

Royal Rumble 1998 Casket Match HBK Undertaker

As mentioned above, the match itself isn’t the best match we would see from HBK and The Phenom but in my eyes, they are two of the ten greatest superstars in WWE history and even their worst match is still far better than 90% of the other matches the WWE offers. But what really made the night memorable was the ending!

With the Undertaker trapped inside, Paul Bearer came to the ringside carrying giant padlocks and with the help of Kane, they locked the Undertaker inside the casket and proceeded to roll it to the top of the entrance ramp where Kane took an axe and began to dispatch the coffin before dousing it with gasoline and setting it on fire. And the entire time, Undertaker was supposedly inside.

If you were a young fan watching at the time, the ending of this match might have given you nightmares. It was like something straight out of a horror movie and it was an ending everyone was talking about for months.

As we watched various emergency officials extinguish the fire, Commissioner Slaughter and others desperately tried to break open the casket to free Undertaker. And when the casket was finally wedged opened, Undertaker was nowhere to be seen.

Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker Casket Match

Regardless if you agree this is one of the greatest Royal Rumble matches, the match itself is historically significant for many reasons. It was the match that forced Michaels to take an extended hiatus due to a legitimate back injury and it also marked the last time Undertaker wrestled Shawn Michaels before their historic WrestleMania XIV match. Meanwhile, Kane’s interference set up an o ongoing rivalry between the brothers of destruction. In the end, the 1998 Royal Rumble Championship Match delivered a great story complete with stellar performances from everyone involved.

  • Ricky D

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series. Click here to see every entry.

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Podcasts

The Mid-Season Replacements Podcast Episode 3: “Big Space Energy”

On this week’s episode, Randy and Sean exit the atmosphere to examine the state of space science fiction in today’s TV landscape.

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Lost in Space

On this week’s episode of The Mid-Season Replacements Podcast, Randy and Sean buckle up and head into the great beyond of space-based science fiction on television, and what happened to a genre that used to be an American institution. After a larger discussion about cultural attitudes towards exploring the stars, and the impact of changing TV habits and the proliferation of superhero stories on the genre, our esteemed explorers have an extended conversation about The Expanse and Lost in Space, the two most prominent non-Star Trek or Star Wars outer space shows on TV.

Opening Track: “Main Title Theme,” Lost in Space OST, Christopher Lennertz (original theme by John Williams)

Shows discussed: Star Trek: Discovery, The Orville, Other Space, Avenue 5, The Expanse, Lost in Space (2018)

The Mid-Season Replacements Podcast is a weekly show hosted by Goomba Stomp and TV Never SleepsRandy Dankievitch and Sean Colletti, with new episodes debuting every Wednesday.

Listen here on iTunes, YouTube, follow us here on Spotify, or listen/download using the embedded player below.

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Wrestling

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches: The First-Ever Tag Team Tables Match

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First-Ever Tag Team Tables Match

Royal Rumble 2000

The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz

The 2000 edition of the Royal Rumble, which was held at the Madison Square Garden on January 23, is without a doubt one of the best WWE pay-per-views ever! It’s an absolute classic filled with memorable moments such as The Rock’s unforgettable Royal Rumble win and the street fight between Triple H and Cactus Jack. It also featured the first-ever Tag Team Championship Tables Match between two of the most significant tag teams a the time.

The WWF WWE has always had some truly amazing tag teams— from The British Bulldogs to The Rockers to The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express— but it was at the turn of the century that the tag team division really started heating up with competitors taking it to a whole new level in jaw-dropping hardcore matches, table matches, ladder matches and of course, TLC matches.

Leading this resurgence were The Hardy Boyz and the recent ECW defectors, The Dudley Boyz and at the 2000 Royal Rumble, the two teams would showcase their stuff in an unforgettable championship match that featured high-flying, no holds barred action.

The First-Ever Tag Team Tables Match

It was the second match of the night and it was a match that would foreshadow the legendary TLC series between The Hardyz, The Dudleyz and fellow tag team competitors Edge and Christian. Taking the opportunity to impress a large pay-per-view audience, the two teams delivered a phenomenal showcase filled with several high-octane stunts and high-risk maneuvers.

In order to win the match, you had to put both members of the opposing team through a table. This meant that fans would be treated to seeing at least three tables smashed before the end of the match. However, these trailblazers wouldn’t settle for just three; by the time the bell rang, at least nine tables had been destroyed.

The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz Royal Rumble 2000

The match only lasted about twelve minutes, but it was an astonishing tag team match no less, and one filled with plenty of highlights including a mid-rope Powerbomb that sent Matt Hardy through a table. At one point, the Hardy Boyz gained the advantage with a double superplex to Bubba Ray and after a devastating chair hit across Bubba’s forehead, Matt and Jeff Hardy simultaneously performed a diving leg drop and a diving splash, sending their opponent through the table.

The match eventually carried onto the entrance as the Dudley Boyz stacked two tables on top of two other tables under a balcony. In a moment that would define what the tag team division would like over the next several years, Jeff Hardy dove off the balcony and delivered a Swanton Bomb to seal the victory.

The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz Royal Rumble Tag Team Championship Tables Match

There are many reasons why wrestling fans remember the Attitude Era as the peak period of the WWE. Not only did it have edgier, controversial storylines, often pushing of the boundaries of what could be shown on national television, but the Attitude Era also featured a plethora of incredible performers, and yes, that includes many legendary tag teams. In the eyes of many wrestling fans, the Attitude Era featured the best tag team matches — and you’d be hard-pressed to find any other era in the WWE that had as much talent in the division.

The match between the Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz at the Royal Rumble not only put both teams on the map, but it set up one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the WWE. It was the first-ever Tag Team Tables Match, and in my opinion, it is also one of the most underrated matches of the pay-per-view.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series. Click here to see every entry.

  • Ricky D
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